Friday 19 July 2013

The Vagaries of Freelance Life...

Occasionally people ask me about the way I run the business. Often, it is because they are vaguely considering cutting loose from organisational life and going freelance. So here are some reflections which may (or may not) be of help.

Running one’s own small  business is an interesting experience, and perhaps requires a certain approach which it is not easy to articulate.  I came across a phrase in C S Lewis some time ago, which seemed to sum it up perfectly: Divine uncertainty.

Things change, and they are hard to predict.

A few years ago, a lot of my work came in at relatively short notice: if the diary was fairly busy about 3 months out, that was good.  

But more recently, far more work is being booked as part of an annual planning process.  So, for example, last year looked as though it was going to be a very good year, both in terms of volume of work and the inherent interest of that work.  

There were lots of forward bookings, and plenty of leads and prospects for other things too.  Then with a change of leadership at one of my client organisations, a major programme was postponed; another project which looked promising got off to a relatively poor start and  much of the potential work never materialised; and moreover, very little work came in at shorter notice: suddenly from being a good year, it was just a year.

At the beginning of this (financial) year, June and July, the diary was relatively empty: so I invested a little time in marketing and re-connecting with the network as one does.  And then, suddenly a lot of work came in at short notice and the year was off to a flying start.  But here’s the funny thing: none of that was a result of the marketing and networking conversations I had had.  

By the same token, I sometimes get involved in tendering for work. More often than not, I fail to win work for which I am (in my humble opinion) really well-suited, but instead win work which is rather tangential to my core skills and experience.  But I have blogged before on the tendering process...

All this is worth mentioning, because it is something of a pattern.  If I neglect that side of the business, eventually things go quiet; if I spend time on it, things pick up - yet the causality is far from obvious. Maybe it’s just confirmation bias: but it really looks as though there is something in it.  

And not only did short term work come in, lots of it, and for the first time in months, but also the forward bookings were starting to come in.  Jane and I sat down for a forecasting meeting yesterday morning, and it was looking quite solid: lots of things in the diary, and quite a few prospective pieces of work, too.  If only some of those would firm up.  I made a list of some people to talk to about that.

But before I could do so, in fact that very day, five of those clients were in touch, confirming, and in one case radically expanding, that prospective work.  So this year (13/14) is looking very good indeed: lots of very interesting work, with a larger range of clients.

And the moral of this story?  I am not quite sure, but suspect it is something about requisites for running a small business including hope, patience and persistence.


  1. Very insightful Andrew and useful to know. I am a big believer of you reap what you sow, not a logical explanation I know! However I think that sometimes putting in the leg work brings on the rewards elsewhere. Sounds like you have a good 13/14 ahead of you..

  2. Natalie,

    Thanks for your comment. Glad you found the post interesting and that it resonated with you!